Commencement Address Shares Enduring Wisdom from Childhood Song
Enduring wisdom comes from many sources, and as the members of Hope College’s graduating Class of 2017 prepared to cross the stage at Ray and Sue Smith Stadium during the college’s 152nd Commencement on May 7, they were encouraged to remember a children’s Sunday school song.
And also to sing it.
“Now I know we’re all gussied up in our caps and gowns, and I know y’all are on the verge of becoming sophisticated college graduates. But I do not care,” said featured speaker Dr. Charles Green, professor of psychology and former director of the college’s Phelps Scholars Program. “We are going to sing ‘Deep and Wide’ right here at your commencement. That goes for the faculty, the families and everyone else.”
The resulting impromptu choir included approximately 730 seniors. The class consisted of students from throughout the United States as well as foreign nations from around the world.
The ceremony was the final Commencement in the presidency of Dr. John C. Knapp, who like the class itself had joined the college four years before. He began his service to Hope in the summer of 2013, shortly before the members of the class arrived as freshmen. Knapp will be leaving the college at the end of July to become president of Washington & Jefferson College in Pennsylvania.
“John, we thank you and Kelly for your service to Hope. You showed us how to be a Christ-centered community in a winsome, open and loving way,” Green said as he began his remarks. “We will miss you both.”
Immediately prior to the Commencement address, the graduating class presented the 53rd “Hope Outstanding Professor Educator” (H.O.P.E.) Award to Dr. Lindsey Root Luna, assistant professor of psychology. The award, first given in 1965, is presented by the graduating class to the professor who they feel epitomizes the best qualities of the Hope College educator.
Green titled his address “A Fountain Flowing Deep and Wide,” from the song’s lyrics. He noted that as the graduates embrace the reality of life today — how to thrive in an age with so many differences in background, perspective and opinion — the song’s message provides a meaningful guide for people of faith.
“As we are all well aware, we live in a divided and divisive time. We’ve always had our differences, but in the U.S. today, and in many other countries, there is a polarization that cuts right through, leaving us fearful, angry, suspicious,” he said.
“Underneath, many of our most divisive arguments are a disagreement about which is better — deep or wide?,” Green said. “Should we hunker down with the people who look and think like we do? Or should we embrace the diversity and internationalization of the age?”
“Fortunately, the answer to this question is right here in this song,” he said. “All we have to do is listen for the most important word. It’s not ‘deep.’ But it’s not ‘wide,’ either. It’s ‘and.’ There’s a fountain flowing deep ‘and’ wide. Not deep ‘or’ wide. Not deep ‘but’ wide. Certainly not deep ‘versus’ wide. A fountain flowing deep ‘and’ wide.”
“For people of faith, this fountain represents the depth and breadth of God’s love for us,” Green said. “God’s love is deep and wide because God is deep and wide. Scripture tells us we were created in the image of God, suggesting that we, too, were meant to be both deep and wide.”
Deep engagement with faith and wide engagement with others are not only compatible but complementary, reinforcing each other, Green said.
“When our roots are truly deep, we have the confidence to reach out, to bring alongside, to invite, support, ask, welcome, to meet new people and learn new things,” he said. At the same time, he said, going wide and new experiences “enable reflection and encourage commitment. New ideas offer a richer understanding of God and God’s creation. New people teach us to see difference and similarity, and we learn more about ourselves as we learn more about others.”
The Commencement ceremony was preceded by the college’s Baccalaureate services, held in Dimnent Memorial Chapel in the morning. The address, “Equipped to Serve,” was presented by Sandra Gaddy, who is chief executive officer of the Women’s Resource Center in Grand Rapids as well as a member of the college’s Board of Trustees and co-chair with her husband, Arlen, of Hope’s Parents’ Council.
“I believe service is your true calling, your great opportunity,” she said. “To serve — it is your duty as a Hope College graduate, but more importantly as a child of God. Together with leadership, service is part of the fabric of this place — part of Hope’s mission, and I hope yours, to be fully alive in mind, body and spirit. To serve as Servant-Leaders.”
She connected her message to the service’s scriptural passage, Romans 12:9-13: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
The passage, she noted, offered guidance for the spirit with which the graduates should pursue service: with humility and kindness. “When you leave the presence of someone you just served they should feel, they should see, compassion, your true desire to help, and an authentic love that does not pity but sees God potential.”
Across her address, she shared examples of ways she had benefited from and participated in service, and of members of the graduating class who had engaged in service during their time at the college as volunteers at organizations, or with activities and programs for senior citizens or children, or coordinating service opportunities for others. When she asked for the graduates to raise their hands if they had participated in service while in college, the majority did so.
Gaddy encouraged the graduates to continue to find ways to serve, noting that they would find needs in their neighborhoods as well as beyond.
“There is a whole world out there that needs you — where you live, down the street, in the community, across the country, across the oceans,” she said. “Service is your chance to fall in love with a cause, to help someone ‘dream big’ about their future, your opportunity to also dream big, to make a human impact. You can all give something because you are equipped to serve.”